How Good Does ‘Young India’ Feel?

The PM’s ambitious Golden Quadrilateral National Highways Project is being used as an advertisement for ‘History Being Made on the Roads’. But this poll-time proclamation is silent on that other history being made on the streets - by young people like the engineer Satyendra Dubey in Gaya who was killed when he blew the whistle on corruption in the same project, or the AIPWA activist Manju killed by Ranveer Sena men in Jehanabad. The mafia which killed Dubey, the people in the PMO which leaked his name, all go scot free. The Ranveer Sena has boasted of Manju’s murder and threatened the lives of the comrades who survive her. Not far from where Dubey and Manju were killed, another young woman, Sarita, who ran an NGO, was killed.

All these events remind us irresistibly of Chandrashekhar from JNU who was killed in Siwan. Chandu left JNU and Delhi, with all its possibilities of a bright career and various comforts, to join the struggles of the rural poor in Siwan. Mafia don and RJD MP Shahabuddin’s goons gunned him down in broad daylight. 6 years have passed since that murder and the massive students’ movement that followed it. But the CBI is yet to frame any charges against Shahabuddin who, this time, will once again contest for a place in Parliament.

The Outlook and other popular media tell us that today’s India is ‘Young India’. 54% of India’s population, we’re told, is below 25 years of age. Other statistics indicate that 70% of Indian people are around 35 years old. The issue of Outlook which highlighted these facts carried a series of stories claiming to profile this age group. How representative this profile is of the mass of India’s youth can be gauged by the fact that the magazine’s chosen sample seemed to be limited to a few people working in a posh beauty saloon in Mumbai). The stories created an image of youth whose ambitions were limited to their careers, whose concerns were thoroughly personal rather than social, who were consumerist but conservative, and who had nothing but ignorance and apathy for the burning issues of their country. In one of these stories, a writer tells us of a young Muslim woman who doesn’t know who Modi is; the writer tells her, insultingly, that he’s the guy who invented Modi Xerox, and she believes him. Is this really what young India is like? Or is this just what the forces of the market would like all young Indians to be – passive, smug, ignorant consumers?

One recalls the India Today story in the early ’90s which proclaimed the ‘end of the student movement’, claiming that young students were too obsessed with careers and consumerism to bother with movements. Vigorous student upheavals against privatisation, and the powerful example of Chandrashekhar spoke for the fact that the corporate obituary for student idealism was premature. Today, the examples of Satyendra Dubey, Sarita and Manju pose an equally eloquent challenge to that demeaning portrayal of Indian youth.

The life trajectories of these young people met and diverged at several points. Chandrashekhar and Dubey had both managed to ‘escape’ from Siwan to the prestigious campuses of JNU and IIT. But Chandu had chosen the life of a revolutionary and gone back to Siwan as an activist, while Dubey had gone to Gaya as an engineer with the prestigious Highways project. Manju had, unlike them, never left rural Jehanabad, and since her early teens had waged a brave struggle against the forces of patriarchy and feudalism that grip the Bihar countryside. Like Chandu, she too had dedicated her life to the revolutionary Communist movement of the CPI(ML). Whereas Sarita began her journey with the CPI(ML) but moved to the NGO sector. But the thread that binds all of them together is their refusal to let the values of the market or the dictates of feudal goons or mafias shape the course of their lives. They chose instead to chart out their own course refusing to compromise with their conscience and principles. In one way or another, they were the role models, the leaders, of this country’s youth. In death, too, they are alike – they were killed by those in power or by those with direct links with those in the corridors of power.

Their deaths force us to ask – is this the age of a ‘resurgent’ young India, full of hope and promise? Or is it an age which is witness to the massacre of the emerging youth leadership?

In fact, not only youth role models, but the very aspirations of youth are being brutally crushed. Whether in villages or in cities, the mass of youth is unemployed. The Govt. has failed even to give them a functional National Youth Commission, which would have the responsibility of addressing their issues. In this phase of electoral sops, the sheer neglect of the youth sector despite its size, is all the more glaring. Jaswant Singh’s so-called ‘populist’ budget had nothing to offer students and youth. In 1999, as the NDA Govt. was being formed, Vajpayee had promised to generate 1 crore jobs a year, spend 6% of the GDP on education and guarantee free higher education to women. Now, the Govt. sees no need to account or apologise for its failure to keep these promises. Now this Govt. is trying to create a ‘Feel-good’ feeling. Watching the Govt-sponsored ad-campaign, however, one only feels compelled to ask – if our country is indeed bursting with never-before prosperity, why is the Govt. ‘having’ to slash job avenues and education funding?

The Govt. is touting the fact that we have huge forex reserves. But isn’t this ‘shining’ economy overshadowed by the massive parallel black economy in the country? Refusing to declare employment a fundamental right, the Govt. claims it has no money to spare for unemployment allowances. But surely, if the vast wealth of black money amassed by politicians, bureaucrats and others were to be confiscated, it would yield more than enough to fund allowances for the unemployed? The Government’s choices – of giving massive tax breaks to subsidise the rich, while starving the education sector, of turning a blind eye to the black economy – is a clear indicator of where students and youth stand in its priorities.

Throughout Murli Murli Joshi’s entire tenure, there was an all-out emphasis on privatisation, commercialisation and fee-hikes in higher education. Fees were hiked in most colleges and universities, forcing students of poorer backgrounds out of higher education. Now, as part of the poll-time ‘Feel-Good’ tactics, Joshi has played his ‘Fee-Good’ card of lowering fees in IITs and IIMs. In the media, an entire debate is being orchestrated, whereby the Government is posing as the defender of the rights of poor students, while IIT-IIM students, teachers and alumni seem to be opposing the reduction in fees. The carefully constructed image of the IIT-IIM graduate as the cool guy who funds his education through a loan, and repays it once he gets a five-star job in a corporate house, is being portrayed as a typical representative of the nation’s students. What about the IIT or IIM graduate who chooses to work in the voluntary sector? Or the entire mass of students who are outside the elite preserves of the IIT-IIMs, who have vociferously resisted fee-hikes in their colleges and Universities? How come their voices are never taken to be typical? Even while claiming to ‘tame’ the corporate-dominated IIMs, Joshi has proposed the Model Act to introduce ‘Corporate Culture’ in Indian Universities! In order to divert attention from the fact that they are busy turning education into the playing field of multinational capital, the BJP wants to project the ‘Fee-Good’ in IIMs as the national educational debate.

Young India today is the primary target of the fascist mobilisations like ‘kar seva’, ‘trishul diksha’ and communal pogroms, as well as communal brainwashing in the classrooms. Savarkar, the Hindutva ideologue who begged pardon from the British, is being peddled as the role model for Indian youth. Bhagat Singh’s ideas, struggles and sacrifice are totally sidelined. But this model needs no ad-campaign in order to shine through. Every time a Chandrashekhar, a Manju or a Dubey stake their lives, they infuse new energy in Young India’s struggle to create a truly shining India.

In the coming elections, young Indians must not only raise the issues of education and employment, they must declare they will not tolerate any protection and patronage for, nor any excuses for lack of action against the killers of youth leaders – be it Shahabuddin in Siwan or Ranveer Sena’s supporters in Jehanabad.

-- Sunil Yadav